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Wolchover & Heaton Armstrong on
Confession Evidence

by David Wolchover and Anthony Heaton Armstrong


Sweet and Maxwell Criminal Law Library,
First published 1996
ISBN 0 421 54710 3
Price 120.00 in UK
753 pages

From the 1996 Sweet and Maxwell Criminal Law Library brochure

This title offers a comprehensive study of the law on the obtaining of confession evidence and its use in court. Set against a background of historical development it presents an analysis of conceptual principle and case law unprecedented in both breadth and detail.

Subject matter
The topics include:--

  • The nature of confession evidence
  • Original research into the historical progress of the law on confessions
  • Exculpatory assertions
  • Psychological aspects of confessions and interrogation
  • Detailed study of the detention and questioning provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and Code of Practice "C" for the detention treatment and questioning of suspects
  • Proving and disproving confession evidence
  • Audio- and video-recording of questioning
  • Tape-recording exchanges outside the police station
  • Video monitoring of police station precincts
  • Corroboration of confessions
  • Fraud inquiries
  • Admissibility of previous police debacles over discredited confessions
  • Analysis of the "silence" provisions of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994


  • The nature and character of confessions (including psychological aspects)
  • The obtaining of confessions (interrogation and the regulation of questioning)
  • Proving confessions
  • Exclusion of coerced and imporperly obtained confessions
  • The evidential significance of silence.

What some of the reviews have said:-

  • " No one is better qualified to write this book than David Wolchover and Anthony Heaton-Armstrong. Over the past 10 years, the authors have written extensively on the Codes of Practice and police interviewing techniques. They submitted a significant body of evidence to the Runciman Commssion and they have since liased closely with the Home Office on the revision of Codes C and D. The revised Codes of Practice owe rather more to Messrs Wolchover and Heaton-Armstrong than is generally known. The authors are also experienced criminal practitioners and are therefore, on a daily basis, toiling at the coal face. In their specialist filed, the authors demonstrate a welcome commitment o the role of other professionals, principally psychologists and psychiatrists. There is a substantial secioni in the book devoted to psychological research and a fascinating section dealing with interrogation techniques. More usefully, there is a section devoted to the practical and scientific methods of disproving confessions, including electrostatic analysis, phonolinguistics and tests which focus on the vulnerability of the suspect. The history of the development of this area of the law receives considerable treatment. It is not the sort of material which will ordinariily find its way into a textbook and one suspect the authors won an editorial battle to keep this material in. They were right to fight that battle. The law on confessions is intricably bound up with the historical development of common law. A knowledge of that history is crucial to an understanding of many key common law authorities. The price of this book . . . might be sufficient to deter all but the keenest reader, but ev ery set of criminal chambers and any first class solicitors' office should aspire to at least one copy. Admissibility of confessions has dominated the trial process for the last three decades and it is about time that a standard reference text emerged." --- SEAN ENRIGHT, New LawJournal, February 28, 1997.
  • " The books which form Sweet and Maxwell's Criminal Law Library tend to be characterised by the excellence of their scholarship. It is a pleasure to be able to confirm that David Wolchover and Anthony Heaton-Armstrong have maintained that tradition in thsi comprehensive analysis of confessions evidence in Englsih law. . . . The authors say that they have opted for an encylopaedic approach, designed to appeal to academics and to those criminal law practitioners with a particular interest in confession evidence. Their claim to encylopaedic character is justified and their appeal to academics and criminal law practitioners should be wide. . . . As the authors point out in their introduction, there would have been little point in producing a book which 'simply extracted, replicated and assembled all the bits relevant to confiession from the established manuals, Archbold and Blackstone '. Accordingly, the go far beyond that and offer critical analysis of a particularly perceptive kind. Such analysis is likely to be of great assistance both to the scholar and to the practitioner. . . . Wolchover and Heaton-Armstrong show themselves to be well aware of the multi-disciplinary nature of their subject and, although their book is very much a legal text, they take signficiant account of the literature of other disciplines. . . .[T]he book is neither cheap or expensive, as hardback law books go. It does, however, represent excellent value for money and its purchase and frequent use is to be recommended to all with an interest in matters evidential." --- ALISTAIR N. BROWN, Journal of the Forensic Science Society,Vol. 37, 3, 1997.
  • " Over the years the psychologists and psychiatrists have developed their experience and skill in analysing the confession and the make of the confession and his character and personality and the reasons for his behaviour in particular circumstances. The have become of immense help to the defence (and indeed the prosecution) advocate, and they have gradually gained access to the witness box. These authors . . . have mastered this modern science and their understanding and exposition of the accumulated knoweldge and experience of forensic psychiatry is indeed masterly. . . . How to understand the expert, how to handle him, how to make the most of him in the best interests of D, that is the problem for the defence advocate. Here is the guidance needed. Incidentally, the forensic psychologist and psychiatrist would do well to familiarise himself with this book, because he should understand the legal issues and be able to address himself to them. . . . The authors are experienced and respected juniors, practical men with a scholarly bent, who have given years of study to the history of confession law and practice, the psychology, the PACE codes, and the judicial decisions. Everything is in here, the cases, the literature, the research, the Royal Commission, the arguments, the submissions. Every advocate and indeed every judge and recorder in the Crown Court must be thoroughly familiar with confession law and practice. This requires careful and sustained study. This book puts it all between two covers. In preparing for a contested case, in which a confession may be challenged, the advocate should consult this book. Composition, lay-out, presentation, printing and publication are excellent." --- ALEX SAMUELS, [1997] Criminal Law Review 621.
  • " David Wolchover and Anthony Heaton-Armstrong are leading criminal barristers, very experienced and knowlegeable, and they have produced a remarkable work of research, history and scholarship, combining an exhaustive exposition of the law and practice with a thorough understanding of the psychological problems involved. The detail is formidable, almost intimidating, but the lucidity and clarity of the text, and the authoritative exposition of the law, quickly reassure, and we shall all soon regularly and confidently find our way around this definitive work. If the police officer is challenged over a confession, if the prosecuting lawyer has to urge its admissibility and authenticity, if the defence lawyer wishes to have it declared inadmissible, or to persuade the jury of its invalidity, if the expert (on whichever side) wishes to know what the law is likely to require, then he/she must check in Wolchover and Heaton-Armostrong. A notable addition to the literature of the law." --- Medicine, Science and the Law, Vol. 37, No 3, July 1997.
  • " [T]here is something for everyone in this . . . informative, elegantly written and analystical tractate on the law of confessions in English criminal law. This is also a book that will not soon be out of date. . . . [The] book is a fine contribution to the scholarly literature in the area, and it will be an important reference source for many years to come." --- PROF. IRENE MERKER ROSENBERG, Houston Journal of International Law Vol 20 Number 1, Fall 1997.

For some time after publication in 1996 the authors continued to prepare materials with a view to an eventual new edition but suspended further work in about 1998. However, they have now re-started their efforts and are gradually working through the text, posting revisions to the Noter-up from time to time as commitments allow, in the hope of bringing the original edition completely up to date. Text in blue is believed to be up to date at the date of posting. It does not and will not include any changes to Chapter 5 on the evidence of silence. All developments on that topic are in the Noter-Up on David Wolchover's work Silence and Guilt, which can be accessed through the General Information page.

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David’s professional address:
Ridgeway Chambers

General Council of the Bar of England and Wales Chambers Number 6473, 4 & 6 The Ridgeway - Golders Green - London - NW11 8TB - United Kingdom

David Wolchover's e-mail address is:
+44 (0)20 8455 2939
+44 (0)7877 817138